The Rainbow Singer
The conflict in Northern Ireland is referred to as "The Troubles"
by the parties concerned. There are no quick fixes to it; there
are, probably, no fixes at all. As Wil Carson, the "Prod" teenager
in Simon Kerr's THE RAINBOW SINGER, so succinctly puts it, the
existence of one side justifies the existence of the other; remove
one side, and both sides would cease to exist.
THE RAINBOW SINGER is Kerr's debut novel; Kerr, born in Belfast in
1971, imputes through his Carson-creation the confident, wise-ass
voice of one who knows his territory all too well. Indeed THE
RAINBOW SINGER takes place in 1985, when Carson is in his
mid-teens, just a bit older than Kerr would have been at that point
in time. It is through Carson that Kerr provides his readers with a
keen and unsettling insight into the conflict between Protestant
and Catholic that, despite well-meaning but unrealistic
intervention, will no doubt continue indefinitely.
Carson is a Prod, living in East Belfast, who unbeknownst to his
divorced parents is a member of The Belvoir Brigade, a self-styled
terrorist group that attempts to keep the local estate (that would
be neighborhoods to you) free of the Taigs, or Catholics. Fate
provides a disruption of Carson's summer when he is dragged,
kicking and screaming, into Project Ulster, a peace initiative
sponsored by the Belfast churches. The premise of Project Ulster is
simple enough: take 10 Protestant and 10 Catholic teenagers out of
Belfast and pair them up with teenagers of corresponding religious
denominations in peaceful, tranquil Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a
month. The idea is that the entire group will socialize and the
individuals involved will get to know each other beyond their
religious classifications and see each other as people.
The entire effort, of course, is doomed from the start, as the
Belfast kids pick up in Milwaukee where they left off in Belfast.
Well, some of them do, anyway, and Carson is in the thick of it
along with his American counterpart Derry Horrowitz, a mountain of
internalized anger that is not always successfully capped. Things
become complicated when Carson falls in love with Theresa, a
Catholic girl who is also part of Project Ulster. Carson's
unrequited love provides the final spark for the ending that
readers, with some uneasiness, will sense from the opening
THE RAINBOW SINGER is a dark CATCHER IN THE RYE, with Carson being
a hipper, funnier and, ultimately, more dangerous Holden Caulfield.
Kerr throws in disparate elements --- heavy metal music (THE
RAINBOW SINGER of the title is a reference to Ronnie James Dio,
frontman for an incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow),
firearms, and prejudice --- as catalysts for Carson's actions. But
as the reader is given access to Carson's thought processes it is
clear that he would have walked the same path without these
influences. THE RAINBOW SINGER is a depressing tome, but not
without humor. It is a cautionary tale for our times; to read it is
to acquire the wisdom to know the difference between what can be
changed, and what cannot.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011
The Rainbow Singer
- Publication Date: June 5, 2002
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 277 pages
- Publisher: Theia
- ISBN-10: 0786867981
- ISBN-13: 9780786867981